The Obelisk Gate: Recap

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We've finished book 2 of the trilogy, and time to take stock of where we are.

Some questions:

  • Are people enjoying the books? Do we want to continue with the reading?
  • The scale of the action has changed enormously in this book, from the personal story of Damaya/Syenite/Essun to one of world-spanning and world-shattering consequences. Was this a successful transition?
  • What type of book is this? SF? Fantasy? Superhero? Something else?
  • Jemisin is pushing the racism analogy hard. Is it one that's working? Do you think the book is a worthwhile commentary on the real world and forces in it?
  • Nassun is being manipulated by the adults around her. To what extent is Essun also being manipulated, or affected by the baggage of past manipulations? Do either of these characters have anything to tell us about manipulation, control, and abusive relationships?
  • What questions do you have?

Comments

  • 1

    I don't think it will come as a surprise that I'm not enjoying the books. I don't think they're awful, and they're certainly readable, but I suppose I really don't care much for the crafted world (which seems ad-hoc and lacking verisimilitude, to me) or for the characters. Too often it seems like the author was wrestling with the story, and things are happening for out-of-novel reasons, so I suppose that means there's too much author insertion for my taste. And there isn't much contrast between the characters - they all seem very samey, even the ones who are meant to be antagonists.

    It's certainly trying to convey a message, but the message seems to be 'racism is bad' which is not very nuanced. I think it was @WildCard who brought up an interesting comparison to a well-known story about race, and they way that was described made it sound more sophisticated. In this book, we have people doing atrocious things, but there's no cipher for the reader - no character we can really associate with through whom we see the events and understand them. A story in which people do crap things to one another because racism is... kind of obvious, isn't it? But a story about characters who find ways to cope with, or succeed in spite of, racism is more interesting. Or a story in which the racism victim shows compassion to their oppressor, like the BLM protester in that now-famous photo, would be more interesting.

    The novel is definitely fantasy for me.

    As to the question of continuing, I'm having doubts. I actually would like to read the third book to see where this goes, but I'm not sure I want to do that now, and I'm not sure I want to keep dissecting the book. I'd almost prefer trying to read the last one quickly and letting it wash through me. That seems to have been the context in which others enjoyed it. But that said, if the club wants to continue with it as scheduled, I'm in.

    I don't have a lot of opinion on the rest, except maybe a more open question on the matter of manipulation. Are we sure we're seeing 'manipulation' here, and not just influence. I mean, people are always trying to influence one another - when they succeed, is it called manipulation? But if they don't succeed, it's not? If my wife is trying to influence my actions and decisions to make healthier eating choices - and she succeeds - have I been manipulated? And was that a bad thing?

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    As to the question of continuing, I'm having doubts. I actually would like to read the third book to see where this goes, but I'm not sure I want to do that now, and I'm not sure I want to keep dissecting the book. I'd almost prefer trying to read the last one quickly and letting it wash through me. That seems to have been the context in which others enjoyed it. But that said, if the club wants to continue with it as scheduled, I'm in.

    Do we have a pick for the September book? How about doing The Stone Sky (book 3) as a normal monthly read?

  • 0
    (Quite long, for which apologies)

    Personally, I'm not bothered about continuing. Like @Apocryphal , if the collective mood is to continue then I'll join out of solidarity. But as an individual read, it doesn't interest or excite me, and I wouldn't pick up #3 outside of the club context.

    I was less frustrated with #2 than #1, in the sense that I wasn't put off by the lack of scientific or cultural credibility... I think we all figured out that Jemisin has no desire to write sf in any "hard" sense, but #1 fell uneasily (and IMHO unsuccessfully) between sf and fantasy. #2 was better positioned away from sf. I have some anxiety that #3 will attempt to return more to an sf mode, with the return of the moon on the agenda (let's not talk orbital mechanics just now :) ).

    But #2 just had a kind of whistle stop super hero feel, with Essun and Nassun each upping the tools in their arsenal to world breaking scales. The action was well described, but it's action that doesn't especially grip me. Sure, each one can now commit slaughter on a house / comm / city scale. Wow. Do I care? Not really. Presumably #3 will simply up the body count to regional, continental, or global levels. Again, do I care? Not really.

    On a storytelling level, I find the language quite dull, and likewise the lack of imaginative or metaphorical content. This is not absolutely crucial to me - I liked _Long Way to a Small Angry Planet_ even though the writing was quite plain and simple, since the range of characters and their interactions was very well done. But fundamentally I like richness and depth in a book, and I don't find them here... only an extreme poverty of language and culture as well as action and spirit. A striking feature of ACH has been the clear way in which ULG is drawing on cultural and metaphorical depths to craft her world, and that stands in acute contrast to this trilogy.

    The slavery / racism content - maybe that resonates more with an American reader, but I find it way too obvious and overdone. And also, oddly, lacking... a feature which seems totally absent here is that of creativity and spirituality, often in this world developed specifically by those suffering victimisation. You might interpret that as an attempt to escape reality, or as an intense focus on the only reality which really matters... either way, Jemisin seems uninterested in giving her downtrodden roggas any dimensions except either sullen and ignorant obedience, or else enraged defiance. It's at best half a world, and the boring half at that... I can't give much credibility to a world where, apparently, every interaction is an attempt to dominate, crush, or kill. Where is the axis of cooperation as opposed to competition?

    I guess that's it for this post. It's hard finding things to like, and hard to see why it has received such acclaim. That summation sounds very gloomy, but that's where I am with the series.
  • 1

    I think that's a conclusion. Let's draw this Slow Read to a conclusion. People aren't interested in reading the third book, and life's too short to read dull books.

    Perhaps we'll finish the trilogy sometime, but not in this format.

    Thanks all! It's been a pleasure having some really great discussions about the books. The true world-shattering cataclysm is the friends we made along the way, or something.

  • 2
    Thank you @NeilNjae for volunteering to run this - and for continuing to be a good sport when the going got tough! When I read the third book, as I think I will later this year, I’ll share my comments in an open thread. Perhaps @WildCard will persist as well.

    I guess it’s finally safe for me to read that article now... I wonder what it says.
  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    Thank you @NeilNjae for volunteering to run this - and for continuing to be a good sport when the going got tough! When I read the third book, as I think I will later this year, I’ll share my comments in an open thread. Perhaps @WildCard will persist as well.

    I guess it’s finally safe for me to read that article now... I wonder what it says.

    Nothing to be a good sport about: it's not my book, and the discussions were all civil and fruitful. I think one thing is clear: the books work better when read at speed and you're caught up in the excitement of them.

    Be warned that the article has major spoilers for the third book.

  • 1
    > @NeilNjae said:
    > Nothing to be a good sport about: it's not my book, and the discussions were all civil and fruitful. I think one thing is clear: the books work better when read at speed and you're caught up in the excitement of them.

    Nevertheless it's worth repeating - a high point of this slow read has been the structure and direction of the discussion starters, for which many thanks.
  • 1
    > @NeilNjae said:
    > I think one thing is clear: the books work better when read at speed and you're caught up in the excitement of them.
    >

    I know what people's overall impression was in the slow read. I liked the books quite a bit last year, but the slow read gave me problems meaning I stopped early on (boo for my lack of solidarity) so I agree with this.

    I'm wondering whether you personally feel they are better books read rapidly?
  • 1
    > @dr_mitch said:
    > I'm wondering whether you personally feel they are better books read rapidly?
    >
    I think so. I loved them when I first read them, and they were real page turners. I think the general opinion is that Jemisin is good at action and spectacle, and that suits fast reading.
  • 1

    Whoa! I hadn't read this thread and didn't know! I had already started the third book, thinking we would be discussing it! I would have been willing to go to the end. I had got my brain around the fact that there were no redeeming people, and that everyone was evil, so was looking forward to the end where everyone dies messily, without compassion. Such a heartless book was not good for me, I must confess.

  • 0
    > @clash_bowley said:
    > [I] was looking forward to the end where everyone dies messily, without compassion. Such a heartless book was not good for me, I must confess.

    Perhaps you could work it out in your next album... The Stone Sky Thrash?
  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:

    @clash_bowley said:
    [I] was looking forward to the end where everyone dies messily, without compassion. Such a heartless book was not good for me, I must confess.

    Perhaps you could work it out in your next album... The Stone Sky Thrash?

    Hahaha! :D

  • 1

    Nothing’s stopping you from going on to the end and sharing final thoughts. It’s just the weekly roundup of reiterating our thoughts that will end. I don’t think anybody’s mind changed about much the book over the course of the read, so those were getting a bit repetitive anyway, weren’t they? maybe a comment at the end is all we really need to wrap up.

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